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Why You Need to Empower Your Team as Subject Matter Experts

Most scaling businesses don't harness the full potential of their team because they stop one step short of empowering top talent as the vehicle for growth that they could be. What if you could use subject matter experts in your business as a vehicle for growth? Here's why and how to empower your team as subject matter experts.

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You’ve hired a ton of top talent in your start-up. They know what they’re doing. They always have great ideas. And they deliver!

Congratulations! But the chances are, you’re not harnessing their potential. 

It’s true. Most scaling businesses don’t harness the full potential of their team because they stop one step short of empowering top talent as the vehicle for growth that they could be. 

Welcome to the concept of subject matter experts. Also called SME’s for the purposes of this article.

So, what is a subject matter expert?

A subject matter expert (SME) someone who possesses deep and specialized knowledge in a particular area or field, with their in-depth understanding often coming from extensive education, training, and practical experience within the chosen domain.

When it comes to business specifically, SMEs play a crucial role in driving innovation, problem-solving, and decision-making within teams. Their expertise allows them to contribute unique perspectives, mentor colleagues, and ensure that projects align with industry best practices. SMEs are frequently called upon to share their knowledge, guide strategy, and help teams navigate complex challenges, making them key contributors to the success of organizations in their respective fields.

An easier way to think about it is to think about who on your team you hired and for what reason? In all likelihood, you hired each person to solve a specific problem.

“Whether you are considering starting a business or have been running one for years, one of the most important ways you can continue to build your brand and maximize your business potential is through developing subject matter expertize.”

No matter where your business is in it’s effort to scale, there is never a time when the knowledge and skill of an SME can’t be harnessed. (Forbes)

The benefits of empowering subject matter experts in your business

The state of business today is one of constant change. As organizations navigate through complex challenges and capitalize on new and exciting opportunities, the ability of teams to collaborate effectively has become one of the main determinants of success. 

Teamwork fosters synergy, pooling together heaps of different skills, perspectives, and ideas to drive innovation and achieve common goals. Within this collaborative framework, subject matter experts (SMEs) are hugely important in steering teams toward excellence. As individuals with specialized knowledge and expertise, SMEs serve as the linchpin for fostering collaboration and igniting innovation within their teams. Their unique insights and deep understanding of specific domains enable teams to tackle intricate problems, make informed decisions, and ultimately thrive in the competitive landscape of modern business. 

But why else should you consider empowering subject matter experts in your business?

Problem Solving

SMEs are well-equipped to tackle complex issues within their areas of expertise. By giving them the autonomy to solve problems, you can address challenges more efficiently and effectively, leading to better outcomes.

Enhanced Efficiency

Consider the impact on productivity when you can readily identify the subject matter experts within your team. This eliminates the need for time-consuming individual research or approaching the wrong sources. By fostering collaboration among SMEs, communication becomes streamlined, meetings turn more productive, and workflows are clarified. This collective effort allows the team to focus more on their core strengths, resulting in increased overall productivity.

Knowledge Sharing

Empowered SMEs are more likely to share their knowledge with their colleagues. This not only benefits the organization as a whole but also helps in creating a learning culture within the company.

Improved Documentation Practices

How often do tasks go unfinished due to unclear responsibilities or a sole individual possessing critical knowledge being unavailable? Having a clear understanding of each team member’s expertise allows for better accountability. Team members can take ownership of their areas, creating valuable resources that ensure coverage even when they need to step away. This proactive approach to documentation ensures a smoother workflow and minimizes disruptions, promoting a more resilient and adaptable team.

Brand LOVE

The truth is that your subject matter experts are likely to positively impact the business through the efforts of their work but they’re also likely to raise brand awareness!

The more your subject matter experts engage on the subject they’re passionate about, the more brand love they’re likely to spread!

Case in point? At Whale, team members are often called to speak at conferences and share their stories. 

Stijn Smet Whale

What are some examples of a subject matter expert?

Subject matter experts come in all shapes and sizes across pretty much every industry and every department you can think of. Here are a few examples:

  • Social media expert (even down to specific platform experts)
  • Operating system specialists
  • Manufacturing advisors
  • Data analysts
  • Investment consultants
  • Due diligence specialists

Hubspot is a great example of a company that uses SMEs to grow their audience and provide value in the content they produce for their audience. Their blog focuses on providing expert viewpoints on a range of different topics, so they lean on experts within each field to give a reliable and trustworthy view. This means that people trust their content more, making their content more effective.

How to empower and get the most from subject matter experts?

If you want to build a successful team within your business, recognizing and valuing the expertise of each different member is crucial. By doing this, you help to foster an environment of collaboration and mutual respect, where each person understands the part they play in creating positive outcomes.

In a study carried out by Teamstage, they found that 41% of team members who are aware of their strengths show lower absenteeism, and further to this, employees who know what they are supposed to accomplish and are given the opportunity to work freely, are 6 times more likely to be engaged in doing their jobs.

Encouraging team members to identify and showcase their areas of expertise not only empowers individuals, but also enriches the collective knowledge pool. It’s a catalyst for unleashing the full potential of the team, as members become more willing to contribute their unique insights. Additionally, building a culture that celebrates and rewards SMEs creates a positive feedback loop, motivating individuals to continually enhance their expertise. 

Whether through formal recognition programs, skill-sharing sessions, or platforms that highlight individual achievements, such a culture not only elevates team morale but also ensures that the team remains at the forefront of innovation and excellence. 

Use subject matter experts to document processes

Encourage your company experts to document best practices, standard operating procedures (SOPs), and guidelines within their areas of expertise. This will mean that firstly it doesn’t all fall on one person and secondly that it’s based on BEST practice!

💡 TIP 

Don’t forget to create a centralized repository for this documentation, making it easily accessible to the entire team.

Image of the Whale Dashboard

Reward the effort

Recognize the specialized knowledge and skills your team members bring to the organization and ensure they’re rewarded. This way, they’re likely to want to keep contributing. By the way, this is an excellent way to retain top talent!

💡 TIP 

Acknowledge their contributions in team meetings, company communications, or through recognition programs.

Engage remote workers achievements with Karma

Invest in Technology and Tools

Provide SMEs with the necessary tools and software to enhance their efficiency. This could include project management software, collaboration tools, or specialized software relevant to their expertise.

💡 TIP 

Make sure to use tools, yes, such as Whale, that harness collective wisdom and enable knowledge sharing.

Remember the importance of collaboration between teams

SMEs aren’t just important within each individual team. Another vital element of getting the most out of individuals is to allow and encourage cross-team collaboration across the whole business.

In fact, according to GoRemotely, collaboration is in the top four most important skills for an employee’s future success, with roughly 75% of employees regarding collaboration and teamwork as important. Breaking down silos is a strategic imperative for fostering innovation and achieving holistic success – by encouraging open communication and teamwork, organizations can harness the collective intelligence of their workforce. 

Cross-functional teams bring together individuals from diverse departments, each contributing their unique skills and perspectives. The role of SMEs becomes especially pronounced in these cross-functional settings. With their specialized knowledge, they serve as crucial bridges between departments, providing valuable insights and guidance that drive organizations towards greater efficiency and success.

Bottom Line

Subject matter experts are an incredibly powerful tool for any business, any department, and any team. They bring expertise, experience and influence to your organization, transforming one-dimensional perspectives and significantly impacting a company’s growth and vision. By breaking down silos, promoting continuous learning, and cultivating a culture that values experimentation, leaders can unlock the full potential of their teams. Ultimately, empowering team members as SMEs is an investment in the future, creating a dynamic and collaborative environment that is primed for success.

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